Looking back, I'm not quite sure how I did it. With an 18 year old entering college, a 6th grader in the first year of middle school and a 3 year old entering preschool for the very first time, I had my hands full right before school started last September. After a needle biopsy indicated invasive lobular carcinoma, a form of breast cancer that invades the lobules of the breasts, I needed to move on with my treatment with haste.
I decided to have my surgery 2 weeks before school started simply because my children needed to enter school within Mommy intact. Worrying about my kids thinking of me in a hospital bed just gave me nightmares. I pressed to have my mastectomy quickly, including an elective left side mastectomy as a preventative measure. It turns out I made a good choice having that surgery before school started. We bought school supplies, lunchboxes and uniforms before my surgery and organized everything just in case I was under the weather.
I ended up spending a harrowing 3 days in the hospital. This was so rough on my girls and it would have been harder if they had been in school. Calling me on the phone and visiting soothed even my youngest. Our aim was to transition these children slowly with solid information about Mommy's health. The girls helped care for me during recovery and this empowered them with enough strength to leave for that first day of school with heads held high and happy expectations.
Surgery marks the first step on a long road for breast cancer treatment. We all might think losing a boob or two is the very worst that can happen. Chemo trumps that. Chemo takes a person and wrings them out like a rag. It wrecks the body with weakness that even motherhood barely penetrates. I was lucky - very lucky I never had such low counts to end up in the hospital. Every 3 weeks I traveled into the hellish realm of chemo-induced weakness and suffering. This fog lasted for a solid 7 days. And then I'd emerge to be Mom again.
This isn't to say I didn't do plenty of Mom things during that 7 days after chemo. I did. I just don't remember many of them. It was a complete struggle to remain on my feet, concentrate on projects and make lunches. My husband helped with homework and picked up my slack. With the help of his incredible mother, my girls transitioned through the chemo period quite well with loving support and attention from my mother-in-law. I truly believe she kept them from being so afraid by maintaining their schedules and giving them her undivided attention.
The toughest part of having breast cancer with such a young child is explaining why Mommy doesn't feel well. You literally need to tailor the message to provide just enough information so your child won't be scared. We told our 3 year old that Mommy had an inside boo boo that needed to be taken care of . My precious baby would curl up next to me during those 7 days after chemo, tucked close and patting my back. When Daddy asked her what she was doing, she said she needed to snuggle Mommy to make her feel better.
After that first 7 days, it's like someone flicked a switch and I was back on track. I could drive kids home from school, play with my preschooler and focus on the hundreds of mother-type things that Moms do each day. Two weeks of regular-life bliss followed that hellish 7 days. And then I did it again, over and over for 6 sessions of chemo. And my kids held my hand along the way.
Having a 12-year-old just blooming as a young lady added an interesting aspect to my treatment regimen. When a child hears the world cancer, they automatically assume the person will die. Convincing my most sensitive child that the cancer was gone and I wasn't going anywhere took quite an effort. She's come to accept that Mommy is still Mommy, with or without hair or boobs. My mantra was and remains that I will be here for my girls to help them fight this beast if they have to.
Women don't simply stop being Mommy with a breast cancer diagnosis. We deal daily with running a home, taking care of kids, holding down a job and being the general mastermind of most households. We deal daily with the fear of not seeing our children reach adulthood and the fear that our own kids will succumb to this viscous disease. Fighting as a family makes the road so much easier to bear.
Six month after my final chemo session, I'm still not up to my regular energy level. I conk out quickly and struggle to keep up with my active children. I am, however, striving to enjoy every, single little thing they do each day. Each smile, each laugh, each argument (not!) and every night at the dinner table shows me my blessings. I couldn't have succeeded at fighting the beast without the true gift of my wonderful children.